What I Learned About Makeup As an On-Air Personality

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Makeup can be amazing, or it can bring you to tears. But, as someone who had to teach herself how to do camera-ready makeup at age 42, I’m here to tell you that it’s not nearly as scary or difficult as you think. There are very specific things I learned about doing my makeup in my 40s after having to figure it out for a television show I was hosting. Between lots of practice, and tons of play, I’ve boiled down the lessons I’ve learned to these four pieces of advice. 

Oh, and for those of you who are visual learners without a lot of time, I made you a 5-minute Instagram reel.

You can always comment or DM me if you have questions, but here are the five things that have made the biggest difference:

1. Your Base Matters

Whether you’re new to the whole skincare game or you’re a seasoned pro, it’s important to recognize that the health of your skin makes a huge difference in how your makeup looks. That means keeping it hydrated and healthy–even if you’ve got those niggling crows feet or 11s. Don’t know where to start? I’m a huge fan of the Glass Skin craze, and I wrote about everything you need to start with a fabulous, dewy, and bouncy base.

Once you’ve got the skincare regimen nailed down, you need to consider a primer. Yes. Really. Makeup technology has advanced significantly over the last 10 years, which means that primers actually do something for your foundation–even if you’re not planning to do a full beat. 

A quick rule about primers: Some are silicone-based, while some are water-based. Choose the one that matches the formulation of your chosen base. Don’t mix a silicone-based primer with a water-based foundation or concealer. The results will cause your makeup to slide, crinkle, and generally be a disaster at the end of the day.

Silicone-based primers and sunscreens tend to feel silky smooth on your skin, and you’ll almost immediately notice a mattifying effect, which is great for those of us who are prone to oily skin. Water-based primers and sunscreens tend to be hydrating and a bit stickier for those of us who have dry skin. 

I’ve been known to use sunscreen as a primer, but I’m careful to match formulations. Here are my favorite primers and sunscreens that serve as a lovely base for gorgeous makeup.

  • Silicone-based Primers & Sunscreens
SuperGoop Unseen SunscreenThis is my absolute go-to under makeup. It keeps my silicone-based foundations and concealers from sliding around, seems to almost fill in my wrinkles, and blends beautifully under everything from a full-coverage foundation to a subtler skin enhancer.Price: $36

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Giorgio Armani Fluid Master PrimerFeels like silk on your skin, and I swear it makes me glow. I love this stuff and regularly stock up on it. I have been known to wear it alone on my skin (but ALWAYS with sunscreen).Price: $44

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  • Water-based Primers & Sunscreens
Isntree Hyaluronic Acid Watery Sun GelI mentioned my obsession with glass skin, and this has been one of the key pieces of my routine. It also happens to be GREAT under water-based makeup or for days when you want to wear a lighter foundation. Plus, it’s got hydrating hyaluronic acid built in.Price: $17

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Fenty Pro Filt’r Hydrating PrimeMy first foray into full-face makeup started with Fenty’s products, and I’ve been a fan ever since. I wear this as a primer when my skin is feeling particularly parched and dry. Price: $34

BUY ON sephora

2. Eyes First

Whether or not you plan to wear foundation, a tinted sunscreen, or just a few touches of concealer, always focus on your eyes first. That means that whatever you plan to do with your eyes, whether it’s over the top, or subtle and understated, start with your brows, lids, and lashes in that order.

  • Brows

Brows are the frames for your face. Do them how you like–but personally, I prefer a bushier, more defined brow. I was a victim of the 90s skinny eyebrow trend, and 20 years later, I’m still recovering, so I have some gaps. Here are my favorite products to fill them in and make my brows look fuller.

Anastasia Beverly Hills Perfect Brow PencilI like a firmer brow pencil and the included spoolie brush that helps me get my wily brows into place. I brush them up first, then draw in the places I want a few spare strands. Price: $23

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Kush Clear Brow GelOnce I’ve penciled in my missing spaces I use this (I have it in both clear and brown), to keep my brows in place. Price: $20

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  • Eyeshadow

Don’t listen to the haters who say you shouldn’t wear shimmery eye makeup in your 40s. There are plenty of tools and tricks to help you pull it off. I play with eyeshadow a LOT–like borderline crazy person A LOT. I experiment with bold colors, shimmer, and even glitter.

As far as pallets go, I could make a list a mile long here, but there are two brands that I love and use regularly. Both offer silky smooth application, don’t get a lot of fallout (when the powder ends up in little dots under your eyes and then you smear it and look like a raccoon), and are super easy to blend, which is crucial with eyeshadow. 

Tarte Amazonian Clay Matte Eyeshadow PaletteThis is my daily go-to palette. I use it for those days when I just need a little bit of pop. It blends beautifully and the colors are perfect for daily wear. Price: $42

buy on sephora

Pat McGrath Labs Mothership VIII Artistry Eyeshadow PaletteThese are pricey, but holy cow, the color and the pop. Don’t believe me? See two of my bolder looks below. I like the palette pictured here for drama, but for a foundational version, go for this one or this one.Price: $128

buy on sephora

  • Brushes

I don’t use natural brushes anymore. They are difficult to get clean (and yes, you should be cleaning your makeup brushes far more frequently than you do). As an animal lover,  I also don’t like the process that’s used to create the brushes. I use just three small brushes on the regular: an all-over eye brush, a crease brush, and a thin liner brush.

Rare Beauty Stay Vulnerable All Over Eye BrushThis is the brush you’ll use to take the lightest eyeshadow and sweep it over your entire lid. This one is dense and a bit firm so it acts like your fingertip to sweep the shadow evenly over your lid. Price: $15

buy on sephora

Sigma E45 MAX Small Tapered Blending BrushHooded eyes are a thing, and a good crease brush is CRUCIAL to good eyeshadow. It’s taken some trial and error, but I’ve finally found one l love. In fact, I like the Sigma line of brushes so much, I’d recommend just getting the set. But if you do get just one crease brush, get this one. It’s small and compact, but blends really well and deposits just enough color on your lids. Price: $19

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Sephora Pro Eyeliner brush #22To get the liner into the base of your lashes (which is where you want it for hooded or small eyes), you need a brush. I love a good angled eyeliner brush because if you get adventurous, you can start playing with a bit of a wing, even with hooded eyes and crow’s feet. Price: $16

buy on sePhora

Once you’ve got the shadow down, take the darkest color in your palette or a color that pops and use the tiny liner brush you have to pat the eyeshadow into your lash line. Follow with mascara (roll the wand instead of sweeping it and see what happens!) 

Voilà, your eyes are DONE.

3. Set the Stuff you Like 

Did you get your eyes perfect? Good job! Clean up any potential fallout with a makeup wipe and grab that setting spray and spray across your eyes. LET IT DRY before you open your eyes to avoid transferring your darker eyeliner to the crease. I flap around the bathroom like a crazy person until my eyes are dry and then move on to any kind of concealer or foundation.

Wipe off any miss-sprays under your eyes and sharpen any edges with that makeup wipe. The beauty of this method is that you can make a mess of your eyes, and still make them look good without having to reapply any foundation or concealer. I swear, doing things in this order has been a gamechanger for me.

Charlotte Tilbury Airbrush Flawless Finish Setting PowderThis light powder blurs with a smooth, natural finish. It’s a bit pricey, but you’ll have it for a year even if you use it every day, and the cost per wear becomes like one cent.Price: $46

buy on sephora

4. Contour

Whether you’re going for a full face or just a little freshening, contour is your friend. It lifts the bits that sag and hides the (ahem) emerging jowls (don’t even get me started). 

I like a cream contour if I’m going for a more bare-faced look and a powder one for those days when I’m doing a full face. 

The trick with contour is to start higher than you think. So place the contour at the point near the top of you ear, where your ear meets your temple, then trace down from the upper ear under your cheek bone. Stop about two fingers from your nose, then take a brush or your fingers and blend like crazy. Do the same on the other side. 

Blush goes above the contour from the apples of your cheeks (the place where your cheeks come forward when you smile) towards the ear connection. 

Makeup By Mario SoftSculpt Shaping StickThis cream stick is amazingly easy to use. It comes in extremely unscary, natural shades that blend beautifully, so you don’t have to worry about looking streaky.Price: $28

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Kevyn Aucoin Beauty The Sculpting PowderA perfect blend contour powder that goes on soft and natural. It subtly manages to add shape and definition just where you want it without leaving behind splotches or uneven patches. Price: $44

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I didn’t start learning to do my makeup until I had to, and that meant watching a LOT of YouTube videos and FAILING miserably at replicating the things I saw. 

I’m getting better, but I’m not a professional makeup artist. I have gotten good enough that people compliment me regularly on my makeup. The real trick here is to think of putting on makeup as play rather than something you have to do. When you play, you can make mistakes and try new things. There’s no time pressure, and you can figure out what works for your skin and your face. I swear approaching makeup as something that is fun and playful has made a world of difference.

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Abigail Bassett is a full-time freelance journalist, content creator, and television, video, and podcast host whose work has appeared in publications like TechCrunch, Fast Company, Inc. Magazine, Forbes, Fortune, Motor Trend, Shondaland, Money Magazine, and on CNN. Her passion is telling unique stories that change the way we see, interact with, and relate to the world. She is also a Yoga Alliance Registered 500-hour yoga teacher.

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